Walter Mencken 11 a.m., Nov. 27
- Community Blog
- Brits, Boxing, and Roulette
Brits, boxing, and roulette
For the past seven months I worked in the deli at a downtown market. Being downtown, you meet a wide variety of characters. Some scary, some not; but they’re all interesting. In October a man came in and ordered a sandwich. He wants a panini bun toasted, then loaded with pastrami and provolone cheese. And thereafter, each evening he came in to order the same sandwich, and we’d visit about life. His name is John. He’s 55 and divorced. And he has a 40-foot Kevlar cruiser and loves to sail San Diego Bay. One March evening he came in, but stood back and didn’t place an order. I asked him, “John, no pastrami and provolone tonight?” He replied, “No Robert. I was laid off last week. It happened instantly and I’m flat broke. I just stopped by to say hi.” Between customers I’d visit with him. His passions are sailing and boxing. Then I asked him, if he had ten dollars, what would he do with it? He said he’d buy a pastrami sandwich. I handed him a ten. A week later his first unemployment check arrived and he was in to chat and buy another pastrami sandwich. He told me this brutal recession forced him to put his boat up for sale, “It’s worth 50 grand, but I’d take 25.” Another week went by. Then he came in with a huge smile. He said he’d sold his boat, made several mortgage payments, and asked if I’d go with him to see the Manny Pacquiao/Ricky Hatton fight at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas. On May 2nd. we left San Diego before sunrise. At 3PM, the MGM Grand is packed. And there’s a party of loud, drunk Brits hollering, “Hatton by KO!” John edged over to a roulette table and I sought a blackjack table. An hour later there’s a loud shouting: Let it ride! Let it ride! at John’s roulette table. I wasn’t losing or winning, so I hustled over to see what’s going on. John came out of the stunned crowd with a smile and said, “I just won my boat back, and a little bit more.” I asked, how? I was patient and studied the table for forty-five minutes. And, in comparison, I found that the ball landed on the number 3, or a combination of 3s, less than on any other numbers. So I played the probability factor. I placed my bets on 3, 13, 23, and 33. It don’t often work my way when I do that, but it did for 15 minutes. But, then again, 33 has always been good to me. My boat’s name is “33 Black”. We left and walked down the Vegas Strip until we find a deli: Pastrami and provolone on a toasted bun. We eventually find our way back to the arena. Show our tickets and find our seats. It’s packed. Tense. I did some figuring in my head and told John, “The arena alone has taken in at least $7 million.” John asked, “Who said boxing is dead? Imagine what pay-per-view will do.” Brits on each side of us began waving money and hollering, “I have five hundred dollars on Hatton. Any takers?” I tell John that Hatton’s portfolio looks empty. John takes ten bets. I’m designated to hold the pot. It didn’t take long for the crowd to stand and start yelling. Hatton forgets to duck Pacquiao’s right hooks: Potent hooks that flattened Hatton twice in the first round. A piecemeal dismantling that Hatton wouldn’t recover from. Hatton looks weary until Manny landed a straight left in the second round. The crowd jumps to its feet. I couldn’t see what happened, but the Brits are shouting: The fight’s over! Hatton is bloody out! Bloodthirsty Brits are stunned. I hand a wad of bets: $100 bills to John as the Brits started chanting: It was fixed! Bloody fixed! Postmortem antagonism quickly hatched violence! Two rows down a Brit slapped a Filipino. Two Filipinos wade into the battle. Then all hell breaks loose. John taunts the British clan on our left, “Yahoooo! Let’s bloody riot!” Seeking a sort of wild justice, genuinely good men respond, “You’re bloody right!” On the return trip from Las Vegas, John mentions that he can’t not-sail to Costa Rica. Said the breeze’s free and he knows a good woman there.
A few days later, a message on his answering machine says he’s gone to the equator: La vida loca!